8 Tips for Picky Eaters

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 4.00.26 PM.png

8 tips to help your picky eater try new foods:

1. Eating should be a fun, positive, and social experience

Children learn best by watching others and imitating. Show your little one how much you love food by eating with them. Sometimes nothing is more appealing to a child than what is on their parent’s plate! To keep mealtime fun and interactive, play music and bring mealtime related toys to the table. Encourage your child to feed their favorite toy, a puppet or Milton the Mealtime Companion. Prepare meals with cookie cuttersand serve food with fun utensils and skewers.

2. Do not pressure, shame, threaten or bribe

It is frustrating when your child refuses to eat, but do your best to avoid a power struggle. Childhood food fears are not something you can rationalize, threaten, or bribe away. Many little ones want to try new foods but they are anxious about it. Applying pressure to the situation will only increase their anxiety and reinforce negative feelings about food. 

3. A little empathy goes a long way 

Imagine you are on vacation visiting a remote village and they offer you some earthworm jerky for lunch. How would you feel if they pressured you to eat it and wouldn’t let you leave the room until you took a bite? Would it help if they got angry? Probably not. Even though you may love chicken, your child may feel like it is earthworm jerky.  

4. Play with food! 

You can make food a little less scary by taking the focus off eating and make the experience about exploration and fun. Cook with your child or sign them up for a cooking class. Play with food. Finger paint with purees, build towers out of cheese cubes or make an elephant nose out of a carrot sticks. Once your child is engaging with the new food through cooking or play, they may be more open to smelling it or licking it off their fingers. For some fun ways to play with vegetables check out Adventures in Veggielandby Melanie Potock MA CCC-SLP. 

5. Use language other than “bite and chew”

Taking a bite out of a non-preferred food is a tall order. Remember that earthworm jerky? Reduce the task to something easier and more playful. Use phrases like give it a kissbalance it with your teethhug it with your teethand mash it up. This will increase the likelihood that your child will be successful. Maybe they won’t eat the broccolibut they might be able to give it a kiss. Next month they might balance it on their teethand the following month they might mash it upin their mouth.

6. New foods should be similar to preferred foods  

When expanding your child’s food repertoire, start with a food they like and change it ever so slightly. Change the temperature, delivery method, shape, color, taste or texture. For example, if your child loves pouches, offer it on a spoon or bowl. If they love white cheddar, offer some orange cheddar. If they love fried french fries, try oven baked fries. If they love crunchy carbs, try crunchy freeze dried fruits and vegetables. If their PB&J sandwich is usually prepared in a square, try a heart or triangle. Be sure you only change one quality at a time, so you don’t overwhelm them with novelty. For more information about food chaining check out, Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Dietby Cheri Fraker and Mark Fishbein. Another great book is Helping Your Child With Extreme Picky Eatingby Katja Rowell MD and Jenny McGlothlin MS CCC-SLP.

7. Get creative with your recipes

The internet has tons of recipes for incorporating healthy food into kid friendly meals. You can make any food delicious by cooking it into a pancake, muffin or smoothie. One of my favorite recipes is a protein banana pancake. It is a great way to add some protein to your carb-loving picky eaters diet. The pancakes are made out of 2 eggs and 1 ripe banana. Blend the egg and banana together until the batter is smooth and cook it over medium heat on a buttered skillet. 

8. Slow and steady wins the race

There is no quick fix for very picky eaters. Progress is often slow and subtle. At first progress may just look like reduced anxiety around mealtime or tolerating a new food at the table. Then children may become a little more curious about food and may be willing to play with it. Next they may be willing to smell it, rub it on their lips like chapstick or touch it with their tooth etc. There are many steps to take before eating a non-preferred food, so be patient. 

When to seek help: It is completely normal for toddlers to go through a picky eating stage as they demonstrate their independence and control over their environment. Some children, however, will not grow out of it and their fear of food and extreme picky eating can lead to malnutrition.   

Contact a Speech-Language Pathologist or Feeding Specialist if your child exhibits any of the following:

  • Eats less than 20 different foods
  • Tantrums often when presented with new foods
  • Refuses entire categories of age appropriate food textures
  • By 12 months has not weaned from baby food and does not accept table food
  • Parents report that the child is difficult to feed and meals have become a battle zone

Rebecca Atlas, MS, CCC-SLP

Speech Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist


Communicative Temptations - What They Are and How They Help!

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 10.02.49 AM.png

Parents and caregivers always ask us how they can stimulate more speech from their toddlers, so we thought we would share a few tricks we use as speech therapists. Most often children just need a little more incentive to get them talking so we like to use what is known to speech therapists as “Communicative Temptations.” There are many ways of “tempting” your child to speak. Here are 8 Communicative Temptations we have found helpful in therapy. After getting the idea of how this works, we’re sure you will be able to come up with some of your own “temptations”.

1. Eat something your child loves in their presence with out offering them any. When your child indicates that they would like some, model a more advanced way for them to make the request, whether it is using a sign, a word or a simple phrase. For example, if your child points and grunts to the candy, model the sign for candy then wait and see if your child will imitate the sign candy. If your child simply keeps pointing and grunting take his/her hand and help him make the sign for candy then reward him/her with the candy.

2. Play with something your child loves but don’t offer to share. For instance if your child loves playing with playdough and wants to participate in the fun, you could model the /p/ sound for “please” or “play,” or you could model the signs for please or play. If your child can already say one word model a two word phrase for him/her to imitate like, “play please.”

3. At meal time and snack time give your child bite size portions, rather than dishing up a whole serving for them, then wait for them to request more. If no attempt is made model the sign “more,” help them make the sign, or model the /m/ sound for them to imitate.

4. Limit your child’s access to things like the TV, toys, food, or going outside. Set it up so they have to make a request or ask for help to access these things. You may accomplish this by putting favorite things up high or locked up.

5. Play turn-taking games such as rolling the ball back and forth, or pushing a car back and forth. Once your child expects another turn hold the car or ball and wait. Look at him/her expectantly if no sign or verbal request is made, model an appropriate request such as the sign for “ball,” the /b/ sound, the word “ball” or “ball please."

6. Use tight containers to store things in. When your child indicates he/she wants a cookie you might hand him/her the cookie jar (tightly sealed of course), when he/she can’t open it and hands it back to you make him/her sign open or help.

7. Use wind up toys or other toys that are difficult for kids to operate on their own. Wind up a wind-up toy your child gets a kick out of then hand it to them when they want a turn, wait for them to request help by using the sign or the word to operate the toy.

8. Blow bubbles then screw the lid on tightly and hand it back to your child for their turn. Wait for your child to request help with a sign or a word. Model the sign or word if necessary.

Using these little tricks that require your child to communicate will teach your child the power of communication. They will learn very quickly that when they sign or say “out” they can go outside but if they simply cry by the door nothing happens. It is important to be quick with your reinforcement so your child will make the connection easily, for example if you are teaching your child to request “more cookie” be sure to have that cookie ready to give to them right away. When your child points and grunts, or tantrums pay no attention at all, or be sure to explain that you don’t understand what they want even when you do. Then model an appropriate way to make the request. Little tricks like these have helped us get most non-verbal children to start communicating. And of course these things need to be done in patience and love. When your child sees that he/she can communicate their wants/needs effectively, it will give them added confidence that will help them in the continuing process of language development.

The Importance of Engaging Your Kid

We all know that learning language comes mostly from hearing others speak.  Adults are language role models for younger language learners.  So why are we, as adults, on our phones and other devices so much?  I know I'm not going to be the first person you hear this from, and lord knows, I'm totally guilty too.  But, we need to disconnect from our devices and reconnect with our kids.  Our kids are NOT going to learn language from digital devices.  They are going to learn from the grown ups around them.  I found the following article in the NY Times archives.  It's from 2009.  Even though we seem to be more aware of the need to put down our phones, not much seems to have changed.  Please click on the link to read the full article.  I'd love comments on times when you've disconnected from devices and been glad you did!


What Is Typical Language Development in Toddlers?

Does this sound familiar? Every week when you take your two year old son to music class, you notice that the other children are talking much more.  Not only do they seem to have more words in their arsenal, but they are also putting words together to make short phrases like, “Mommy look!” or “More push.”  Your son, on the other hand, uses about five words and many hand gestures to communicate.  You find yourself feeling more and more anxious that something is wrong. Many parents of toddlers are confused about what constitutes normal language development.

Here are some general guidelines to find out whether your child falls within normal limits or if this would be a good time to get professional input.

Typically your 18 to 24 months old should be able to:

  • Name common objects: BallDoggy, ‘BaBa
  • Use simple pronouns: me, it, I
  • Use two or three prepositions: on, in, under
  • Say social words: bye bye, hi
  • Use two-word phrases consistently: “No night night!”, “More cracker!”, “Want juice!”
  • Has a vocabulary of 100+ words
  • Asks questions:“What’s that?”, “Where’s duckie?”

In addition, a familiar listener (caregiver, sibling) should be able to understand 50% – 75% of the child’s speech.

If your child’s ability to communicate is very different than the capacity listed, it may be helpful to have an evaluation by a speech language pathologist.

There are various ways to seek assistance. You might decide to get help from your state or city early intervention program. Here is the link to New York State’s site. If your child qualifies, based on the extent of the delay, services are often provided free of charge. The second suggestion would be to contact a speech and language graduate program at the closest university to your home. Another option would be to ask for a recommendation for a private practitioner from your pediatrician or toddler/preschool program.

Whichever option you choose, the evaluation itself should involve very similar procedures. The therapist will rely upon both caregiver report and professional observation.  Activities might include both pretend and structured play, reading books and completion of standardized testing.  Examination of your child’s mouth, including his tongue, lips and teeth help to inform the therapist of any structural issues that might be inhibiting your child’s speech development.  Regardless of the setting, the evaluation should be fun and engaging for your child.

At the end of the session, the speech therapist may discuss overall impressions with you, but be prepared to wait a week or more for a formal written report which should include goals and therapy recommendations.

Remember, you are the ultimate authority on your child. If you disagree with the evaluation of your child it is important to feel comfortable seeking a second opinion.

What toys to buy for your toddler - Just in time for the holidays!

A couple of years ago, a parent asked me what kind of toys she should have in her home.  I went through my "must haves" list and then spouted off a few others that I thought would be great additions.  After that, I decided to put together an Amazon Listmania list of toys that were great for facilitating language in toddlers and preschoolers. That mom I was talking about went and bought all of it!  I've brought it back to life and have dedicated a page in our "resources" tab listing them all, along with links to buy on Amazon.  Now, I'm not suggesting that you break the bank and throw out what you've got and buy all my recommendations.  But I do think you should check out the list.  You may already have a lot of similar things and I wrote a small blurb next to each toy, describing how it can be used for language play.  Feel free to comment on any toys that you think should be on the list!

Keep your eyes peeled for a list of toys and games for preschool and school-aged kids coming soon!